I recently acquired Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J. Daryl Charles. The book gives perspectives of five highly-qualified, Evangelical Old Testament scholars on the creation accounts of Genesis:
- Richard E. Averbeck (professor of OT and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) — “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1-2”
- Todd S. Beall (professor of OT at Capitol Bible Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2: A Literal Approach”
- C. John Collins (professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2 with the Grain: Analogical Days”
- Tremper Longman III (professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) — “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What it Doesn’t)”
- John H. Walton (professor of OT at Wheaton College and Graduate School) — “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology”
Each author’s chapter includes responses from the four other authors.
In the Forward, the editor states that one of the convictions behind this book is that “conversation–indeed, even heated debate regarding contentious issues–can proceed in a charitable manner.” That is what I strive for in my writing on The GeoChristian, and I appreciate their objective.
In the Introduction, Victor, P. Hamilton begins by reminding us that “without Gen 1-2 the rest of the Bible becomes incomprehensible.” This is something that all contributors to this book, whether young-Earth or old-Earth, evolution-accepting or evolution-denying, would agree on. The opening chapters of Genesis lay foundations for a number of critical doctrines in the Bible, including humans created in the image of God, humanity’s fall into sin, and the beginning of the long story of redemption in Christ.
The Introduction also points out that the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 has been controversial throughout church history, with quotes from Origen and Augustine to back this up. He then points out some particularly important modern debates, such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the relationship of the Biblical creation accounts to other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.
It is important to be reminded that all of these authors “identify fully and unapologetically with historic Christian orthodoxy and embrace wholeheartedly the basic tenets and historic creeds of the one holy catholic church.” Faithfulness to God’s Word does not require that one interpret Genesis just like only one of these authors.
The Introduction ends by laying out three responses readers might have to the book:
- Confusion — “If the scholars cannot get it all together, what am I supposed to do with Gen 1 and 2?”
- Pre-conceived conclusions — Like the essays I already agree with, and ignore the rest.
- “[A]ppreciate the differing perspectives on Gen 1-2 presented in this volume. We need to remember that a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture does not mean that (my) interpretations of Scripture are equally divinely inspired and authoritative.”
I look forward to learning from each author, and sharing with you my thoughts as I read through this important work.
Grace and Peace
I’m not sure what gave me the urge, but I spent quite a bit of time in late November and early December commenting on young Earth creationist (YEC) Facebook pages. I limited myself to the Big Three: Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Ministries International. Here’s what I learned:
1. Answers in Genesis is the Big One of the Big Three, at least in terms of the number of “Likes” indicated on the Facebook pages.
Answers in Genesis — 312,165 likes
Institute for Creation Research — 88,678 likes
Creation Ministries International — 41,841 likes
For comparison, here are some “Like” statistics for other YEC and old-Earth Christian Facebook pages:
Biologos — 23,675 likes (Evolutionary creation/theistic evolution)
Creation Today — 11,528 likes (YEC site run by Eric Hovind, son of Kent Hovind, a.k.a. Dr. Dino)
Reasons to Believe — 10,218 likes (old-Earth creationist Hugh Ross)
Discovery Institute — 2,363 likes (Intelligent design)
2. Creation Ministries International (CMI) moderates its page constantly.
I don’t mind at all that CMI quickly removes the “creationists are morons” sort of rubbish, but they almost go to the other extreme of “No dissent allowed.” Usually when I left a comment on CMI’s Facebook page, CMI responded with something like
The articles usually did not specifically addressed the topics I raised.
3. Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) seem to do only a minimum amount of moderating, which means that the comment threads quickly become clogged with attacks by skeptics and counter-attacks by Christians.
4. The typical YEC placing a comment on Facebook doesn’t know creationism very well, much less the “other side.” It is common to read arguments that the mainstream YEC organisations no longer use, such as arguments about moon dust or Paluxy River tracks, as well as fringe YEC arguments, such as hydroplates.
5. Kent Hovind’s imprisonment for tax evasion has not diminished his popularity among YECs. I advise my YEC friends to stick to the Big Three, as they have scientists who have weeded out the worst of the worst (although they still present some really bad science). But many rank-and-file YECs were raised on Dr. Dino videos, and think he’s the greatest apologist alive.
6. A large number of YECs continue to view old-Earth Christians as “so called Christians.” This will not change until the YEC leadership stops labeling those who accept a billions of years old Earth as “compromisers.”
7. YEC Facebook posts get thousands of “Likes” and “Shares.” YEC is alive and well in our Evangelical churches.
8. Facebook is an awful place for intelligent, polite discussion about the issues. There are several reasons for this. A) Too many hot-headed people who are eager to join the conversation. B) Too many people who don’t know what they are talking about who are eager to join the conversation.
9. Facebook is ephemeral, like a stream in the desert. Unlike a blog, there is no easy way to go back to a discussion weeks, months, or years later.
10. I need to remind myself that not all things are profitable.
11. I need to remind myself to speak the truth in love.
So what did I learn that I didn’t already know? Not too much.
Perhaps some young-Earth creationist saw that not all YEC arguments are sound.
Perhaps some young-Earth creationist saw that an old-Earth Christian can be a fellow follower of Christ and have insights into the Word.
Perhaps some skeptic saw that not all Christians accept the teachings of the YECs.
I might still occasionally comment on YEC Facebook sites. It won’t be often.
Grace and Peace
Here are some of the Facebook posts I commented on, to give you a flavor of the conversations:
CMI – A Canyon in Six Days! — YECs extrapolate from rapid erosion through unconsolidated silt to rapid excavation of the Grand Canyon during Noah’s flood.
AiG – Where Does the Ice Age Fit? — Squeezing the entire Quaternary and all of pre-2000 BC human history into a few hundred years is an incredible stretch. And it isn’t in the Bible. I pointed out to the AiG readers a major blunder in the article.
ICR – Job’s Icy Vocabulary — YECs try to find the Ice Age in the book of Job. But it isn’t in there.
AiG – Doesn’t Carbon-14 Dating Disprove the Bible? — If you look hard enough for C-14 in a carbon-bearing sample, it will be there. It has nothing to do with the age of the sample.
ICR – Is the Young Earth Model the Best Explanation of the Ice Age? – This conversation was brief, but drew in ICR’s geologist, Jake Hebert, as well as two other Christian geologists. Perhaps there is hope for Facebook.
ICR – The Iconic Isochron — Perhaps I killed the conversation by pointing out some very serious problems with this article on radiometric dating.
The GeoChristian now has a Facebook Page:
Facebook is not the best place to have a dialog about substantial issues, especially because after a day or two almost no one reads the comments on a post. But Facebook does have over one billion users, so it is a means of tapping into a larger audience.
My hope and prayer is that God would use The GeoChristian Facebook page to build up the Body of Christ, and to point unbelievers to the Savior.
Grace and Peace.
“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” — Psalm 90:4 (ESV)
Christians disagree with one another about the age of the Earth and the universe. Some Christians insist that the only possible way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis is that Earth is only about 6000 years old, and that any other interpretation is an accommodation with atheistic naturalism. Other Christians, equally sincere in their trust in the Bible as God’s Word, have studied Genesis and come to the conclusion that the Bible is not so clear on the age of the world, and that there is room for alternative understandings.
An important principle of Biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. For example, there are verses in 1 John that, if taken by themselves, make it sound like a Christian cannot sin (e.g. 1 John 3:9). Well, I still sin, so if all I knew was 1 John 3:9 I would be wallowing in despair. But if I look at other verses in 1 John, I am assured that God still loves me even though I still struggle with sin. I’m thinking of 1 John 2:1-2 in particular:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Reading 1 John 2:1-2 helps me to understand that 1 John 3:9 is not teaching that only the perfect will be saved.
I think it is fair to say that most Bible scholars interpret Psalm 90:4 to mean that God’s perspective on time is very different than humanity’s perspective on time. God is eternal, but we quickly return to dust. God knows the end from the beginning; we see the present dimly, and can only guess at the future. A thousand years is nothing to God, but is far beyond our personal experience.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
My desire in this brief essay is to demonstrate that Psalm 90:4 is relevant as we seek to understand what is meant by the word “day” in Genesis 1. Does Genesis 1 require six literal, consecutive 24-hour days of creation, or is there freedom to interpret the chapter in a somewhat less literal fashion? As we look at Psalm 90:4, I ask you to consider the following points:
1. The Hebrew word used for day in Psalm 90:4 is yom, the same word that is used for day in Genesis 1. In Psalm 90:4, yom is not the daily period of light between sunrise and sunset, nor is it a roughly 24-hour period from sunset to sunset. In Psalm 90:4, yom is clearly figurative.
2. Moses was the author of both Genesis 1 and Psalm 90. The title for Psalm 90 is, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This title is part of the Hebrew text, not an insertion by the English-language translators. It is clear that the word yom is used in a figurative sense in Psalm 90:4, so it is not unthinkable that Moses could write of figurative days, at least in some contexts.
3. The context of verse 4 is creation, so it is legitimate to at least consider whether or not the figurative use of yom in Psalm 90 is applicable to our understanding of the days of Genesis 1. The surrounding verses (Psalm 90:2-6) all speak of aspects of creation:
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers. (ESV)
There are several references to creation: mountains being brought forth, the formation of the earth, man being created from dust, a flood, grass growing and withering.
4. The number 1000 is used in a general sense in Psalm 90; the purpose is to show that God’s view of time is not the same as man’s view of time. It would be just as accurate to say that 1,000,000 years–or even perhaps the entire history of the universe–is as a day or a watch in the night to God.
5. God was the only witness to the events of Genesis 1, and as we have seen in Psalm 90:4, God’s time is not the same as our time.
6. Put these all together, and we get the sense that Moses–and God–is not nearly as concerned with literal 24-hour days as most young-earth creationists are.
I am aware of young-earth creationist’s (YECs) objections to this use of Psalm 90:4, so I’ll mention a few of them.
- YECs will say that the plain meaning of yom in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day, regardless of what Psalm 90:4 says. I will answer this objection by saying that yom is used to mean something other than a 24-hour day more than once in Genesis 1-2, and it is by no means plain that the other occurences aren’t meant to be figurative. The very first use of yom in Genesis 1 is in verse 5, where it says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Yom in this passage means “the period of time when it is light,” not a 24-hour day. Even the “There was evening and there was morning, the nth day” phrase that is repeated for each of the six days is something other than a 24-hour day, as the Jewish “day” ran from sunset to sunset, not sunset to morning, which is only part of a 24-hour day. In addition, Genesis 2:4 uses yom in a figurative sense, where it refers to the entire creation week.
Perhaps the clincher is that the seventh day is left open-ended; there is no repeat of the “evening and morning” phrase (see Genesis 2:1-3). Hebrews 4:3-11 seems to teach that the seventh day is ongoing, and that some people enter that rest, and others do not.
- YECs also commonly object that Exodus 20:11 requires us to read the days in Genesis 1 as literal.
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
I will reply by saying that the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1 should drive our understanding of “day” in Exodus 20:11. If day is figurative in Genesis 1, then it can be figurative in Exodus 20:11. The reason I say that is because the seventh day of creation is a pattern not only for the weekly Sabbath, but also for the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. There is no need for the seventh day of creation in Genesis to be “literal” in order for it to provide a pattern for the weekly Sabbath in Exodus 20, as well as the Sabbath year and Year of Jubilee.
- A third YEC objection is that Genesis is a historical document, and so the days should be taken literally. I will counter this by saying that Genesis 1 clearly has a structure to it that is not found in other Old Testament historical narrative passages. Genesis 1 is not poetry, such as is found in Psalms or Proverbs, but it is clearly not strictly historical narrative, such as what is found in much of Genesis through 2 Chronicles. This needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting Genesis 1, but in general, YECs simply lump the chapter in with other historical narrative passages.
This does not mean that Genesis 1 is non-historical; I believe it is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. But its distinctive style, combined with other considerations, causes me to think that there is more flexibility in the passage than YECs will allow for.
In this brief essay, I certainly have not “proven” that Genesis 1 allows for a universe that is older than 6000 years. But it is clear that God’s days are not necessarily the same as our days, and this needs to be taken into consideration as we interpret the creation account given in Genesis.
Grace and Peace
All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
I stated that Moses was the author of Genesis 1. I see no significant reason to reject Moses as the primary compiler of the Pentateuch, including Genesis, though I do not rule out minor later editing, such as the updating of place names or the inclusion of the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34. Moses certainly may have worked with earlier sources, whether oral or written.
I have been a little sloppy for the sake of clarity. When I write “Genesis 1,” I really mean Genesis 1:1-2:3, which is the complete section. Genesis 1 gives the six days of creation, and Genesis 2:1-3 tells of the seventh day, the day of God’s rest.
2 Peter 3:8 is similar to Psalm 90:4 —
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
I chose to focus on Psalm 90:4 rather than 2 Peter 3:8 because Psalm 90 was written by Moses, the same person who compiled Genesis.
The “Report of the Creation Study Committee” (Presbyterian Church in America) gives a good summary of various viewpoints on creation: http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html
The various YEC ministries all have web pages about the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1:
When they mention Psalm 90:4 or 2 Peter 3:8, they tend to brush these verses off as being irrelevant to Genesis 1.